The National Board of Review announced their 2011 year-end winners today and provided a number of surprises.

Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" won both best film and best director besting other contenders including the NYFCC winner "The Artist," Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" and Lars von Trier's "Melancholia." 

Presumptive best actor frontrunner George Clooney won best actor while Tilda Swinton shocked to win best actress for her riveting work in "We Need To Talk About Kevin."  Christopher Plummer picked up yet another best supporting actor win for "Beginners" and Shailene Woodley finally found love for her work in "The Descendants" in the best supporting actress category.

The NBR spread the wealth to other films including "50/50" (best screenplay), "Like Crazy" (Felicity Jones, Breakthrough Performance), "Rango" (best animated feature), "The Help" (best ensemble), "Margin Call" (debut director) and "A Separation" (best foreign language film.  

A full list of this year's winners as well as the organization's top ten picks are as follows as well as come quick commentary in how this relates to the long-term Oscar race from this pundit.

Best Film: "Hugo"

Lowdown: We officially have a race. I'm no fan of the picture, but it's obviously struck a chord with enough critics and certainly NBR members to be a major contender for a nomination.  The win?  Not so sure.

Best Director: Martin Scorsese, "Hugo"

Lowdown: Scorsese is absolutely in the running for a nomination.  If he continues to pick up additional wins along the way he could be a lock by Christmas.

Best Actor: George Clooney, "The Descendants"

Lowdown: The NYFCC pick of Brad Pitt over his good buddy was a blip on what should be a long road of adulation for the former Oscar winner.

Best Actress: Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Lowdown: Whether this reflects industry or Academy support doesn't matter. This is a huge win for "Kevin" which needs honors such as these to help the film at the box office, first.  If Swinton can land herself in the best actress five? Bonus.

Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"

Lowdown: Another solid and very deserved win for Plummer.  The supporting actor field is wide open in terms of the nominees, but Plummer can become the frontrunner with a few more critic's honors.

Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, "The Descendants"

Lowdown: Huge for Woodley who may be battling Octavia Spencer for Oscar gold.  Also shows how much love the NBR had for "The Descendants."

Best Original Screenplay:
Will Reiser, "50/50"

Lowdown: The feel-good story of awards season.  Would be great to see Reiser in the original field come Oscar time.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, "The Descendants"

Lowdown: As noted previously, shows a lot of love for "The Descendants" from the NBR.  Makes you think the best film voting was pretty close.

Best Animated Feature:
"Rango"

Lowdown: The NYFCC in their infinite wisdom didn't think there was an animated film deserving honors last year.  How they forgot "Rango" is beyond me and almost everyone else in the animated world who were no doubt insulted by their snub.

Breakthrough Performance: Felicity Jones, "Like Crazy"

Lowdown: Should make up a bit for "Like Crazy" getting completely shafted by the Spirits.

Breakthrough Performance: Rooney Mara, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Lowdown: Something tells me most of the NBR haven't seen the original Swedish version.

Debut Director: J.C. Chandor, "Margin Call"

Lowdown: Again, another nice win for "Margin Call" which continues to draw accolades from numerous groups after many thought it would disappear after Sundance.

Best Ensemble:
"The Help"

Lowdown: Nice win for DreamWorks' hit, but they would have no doubt preferred to make the top 10 list and find Viola Davis in the actress slot.  Again, the assumed love for this picture in the industry is not the same as the public.  Just sayin', pt. 1.

Spotlight Award: "Michael Fassbender" (A Dangerous Method, Jane Eyre, Shame, X-Men: First Class)

Lowdown: No one is a bigger fan than I, but someone at NBR wanted the handsome Mr. Fassbender to walk the red carpet and attend the show. Just sayin', pt. 2.

NBR Freedom of Expression: "Crime After Crime"

NBR Freedom of Expression: "Pariah"

Lowdown: Nice honors for both films.  Focus continues to justify the end of year release for the Sundance drama.

Best Foreign Language Film: "A Separation"

Lowdown: Only the Academy's makeshift voters in the foreign language film category can screw the deserved Oscar win here up.

Best Documentary:
"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"

Lowdown: Well, the parents of the children killed by the subjects of this documentary won't be thrilled about this one.  Can't blame 'em.

Special Achievement in Filmmaking: "The Harry Potter Franchise - A Distinguished Translation from Book

to Film"

Lowdown: I guess Daniel Radcliffe is still in the city isn't he? 

 
Top Films
(in alphabetical order)

"The Artist"
"The Descendants"
"Drive"
"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
"The Ides of March"
"J. Edgar"
"Tree of Life"
"War Horse"



Lowdown: Ah, NBR.  There's your bad taste finally coming to light.  You smartly give with "Drive," but "J. Edgar" and "Dragon Tattoo"?  Over "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "Moneyball"?  And boy, you guys didn't like "Young Adult" at all, did you?

Top 5 Foreign Language Films
(In Alphabetical Order)

"13 Assassins"
"Elite Squad: The Enemy Within"
"Footnote"
"Le Havre"
"Point Blank"

Lowdown: Well, it's certainly a list of foreign films.  You could debate this one till the cows come home.  I mean, "Melancholia" maybe? 

Top 5 Documentaries
(In Alphabetical Order)

"Born to be Wild"
"Buck"
"George Harrison: Living in the Material World"
"Project Nim"
"Senna"

Lowdown: Poor "Elmo." Happy "Nim" and "Senna" made it even the former is stunning not on the shortlist for the Oscar.

Top 10 Independent Films
(In Alphabetical Order)

"50/50"
"Another Earth"
"Beginners"
"A Better Life"
"Cedar Rapids"
"Margin Call"
"Shame"
"Take Shelter"
"We Need To Talk About Kevin"
"Win Win"

Lowdown: O.K., NBR.  You are one bizarre bunch. The insanely overrated "Another Earth" and the marginally funny "Cedar Rapids" over "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and even "Pariah"?  Oh me, oh my.  

What do you think of this year's NBR selections? Share your thoughts below.

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